Here at Le Manoire in the heart of the Calvados region of northern France, we are surrounded by history, staying in a place that has been around for 500 years. Parts of the grounds have remnants of even earlier occupation.
The current owners, our hosts, have lived here for the past 30 years. Madame inherited the property which has been in her family for two centuries. It’s now a working farm as well as a bed and breakfast. Before that, it was a monastery, a fortress and a tiny village. Throughout the place, you can find evidence of these earlier times.
On one side of the manor, there is a very narrow steep winding staircase. Monsieur explains that it was designed this way to deter attackers and give the advantage to the people living on the upper floors. The narrow winding nature keeps any ascent slow and limited to only one person at a time. It curves to the right which means if you are right-handed, it’s difficult to wield your weapon and stay upright on the stairs. If you’re coming down, the advantage is yours. This staircase leads to several guest rooms. I am glad we are staying on the opposite side of the manor which has a bit wider staircase. I can’t imagine bringing luggage up the narrow one. Monsieur tells me he gets help from the village for that.
Throughout the towers, there are arrow slits, also intended to keep bad guys out. And at one time, there was a stone wall around the property, gone now.
During World War II, the manor was occupied by German troops. The main building was a headquarters for officers while soldiers bunked in the barns and other surrounding buildings. The farmer who was working the land had no choice but to allow the takeover. On D-Day, the troops got wind of the allied landings (the manor is about 15 minutes by car from Omaha Beach) and quickly abandoned the place. When the American soldiers arrived (it took them four days), they surrounded the place with guns raised. The farmer was terrified that there might still be some Germans hiding as he guided the Americans through the buildings. Fortunately for him, there was no trace. The Americans then set up for a time themselves before advancing on to Paris.
In the main sitting room, the original fireplace remains, still in working condition. It’s huge, floor to ceiling. Tucked to one side is a small niche in the fireplace wall. This was used to dry salt. Salt was of great value before refrigeration as a way to preserve food, particularly meat and fish. The main salt supplies were stored in large pots underground but would become damp. So the salt niche was used dry it out.
On the other side of the fireplace, there are small carvings that depict a religious ceremony, very old. In other spots around the manor, there are more stone carvings of faces, quite primitive in style. Our room too has an unusual original fireplace, considered to have historical significance because of its smooth, curved walls carved painstakingly from stone.
When our hosts took ownership three decades ago, the manor was unoccupied and the land used only for farming. There was no plumbing or electricity and the place was devoid of furniture or decoration, other than what was carved in stone. They brought in an architect to assist with renovations, careful to maintain the historical nature of the place. Each room is unique, furnished with carefully chosen antiques. The dining hall has a giant wood cabinet which appears to be a place for storing supplies. It’s deceptive. One door on the end is actually a door through to the kitchen! Very cool.
We are the only guests here now so it’s very quiet. Especially at night. When we came back last night from dinner, our hosts were out for the evening so it was just us. And, I am convinced, a spirit or two. Sweetie thinks I am crazy but everything felt different, as if we weren’t alone. Sweetie decided to stay downstairs and watch television for a bit so I climbed the tower stairs alone to our room. Something there. A presence? When Sweetie finally came upstairs to bed, he held me close while visions of history swam through my mind.
“Don’t you feel it?” I asked.
“Nope,” says he. “You’re a barrel of monkeys, you are.”
This morning? Bright. Calm. The sense of people past has departed, at least for now. And we are basking in this unexpected pleasure.